Symphony Review: Elegant Mozart with Dame Jane Glover and the SLSO
By Chuck Lavazzi
Musicologist Theodore E. Heger (1939–1977), has described Mozart’s five symphonies as “among the great masterpieces of symphonic literature.” The validity of that assessment was apparent from the performances of the Symphony No. 36 in C major, K. 425 (“Linz”), and the Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504 (“Prague”), by Dame Jane Glover, DBE, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra last weekend (December 9 through 11) as part of an all-Mozart evening.
[Find out more about the music with the KDHXDavid Hal symphony preview.]
|Dame Jane Glover
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
As the Music Director of the London Mozart Players from 1984 to 1991 and the author of a book on Mozart (“Mozart's Women: His Family, His Friends, His Music,” 2005), Glover has a good feel for the composer’s work. Certainly her previous two appearances here with Opera Theatre (“The Magic Flute” in 2014 and “Don Giovanni” in 2011) have demonstrated her Mozartian credentials. This past weekend’s performances only enhanced them.
Both symphonies are solid examples of the Classical style firmly established by Mozart’s friend and supporter Joseph Haydn, at least as far as their musical architecture goes. There’s even a fair amount of counterpoint that reminds us of how much Mozart admired the music of Bach. But, especially in his final symphonies, Mozart imbued that standard Classical model with a degree of emotional power that looked forward to the more unbuttoned Romantic era.
Glover’s interpretations, to my ears, emphasized that proto-Romantic sensibility. But they did so with subtle changes of emphasis here and there, stronger dynamic contrasts, and other tweaks that often made me think of early Beethoven as much as late Mozart. It’s the sort of thing that could only be done by someone who has thoroughly internalized the music. The fact that Glover conducted both works without a score only underlined that point.
A few examples will suffice for illustration. The second movement of the “Linz” flowed along gracefully while still bringing out the profound melancholy of the development section. The use of natural (valveless) horns (the contemporary valved horn wasn't invented until well after Mozart's death) gave a boisterous feel to opening of the Menuetto third movement (nice work there by Thomas Jöstlein and Spencer Park) that contrasted well with the more refined sounds of the oboes and bassoons in the trio. The final movements of both the “Linz” and “Prague” had plenty of energy. And the dramatic, portentous Adagio opening of the latter’s first movement was neatly balanced by the invigorating Allegro that followed.
On the podium, Glover conducted with the fluidity of a Tai Chi master along with the same gestural clarity we got from guest conductor Xian Zhang in an early 20th-centure program a couple of weeks ago, and her communication with the orchestra was impeccable. I was left with the impression that working with her might have been a congenial experience.
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
There seemed to be congeniality as well in the easy give and take between Glover and SLSO Concertmaster David Halen— the soloist—in the Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K 218, that concluded the first half of the program. I have praised Halen’s mix of solid technique and emotional depth in the past and now find myself doing so again. The former was apparent in his exceptional performance of the first movement cadenza and the latter in the Andante second movement, which took us on an emotional journey from sad to wistful to, finally, resigned. The mood shifts of the final movement were elegantly handled by both him and Glover.
In fact, “elegant” is as good a word as any to describe the entire evening. It wasn’t electrifying but it was immensely satisfying.
Next at Powell Hall: The holidays rule for the rest of December. Kevin McBeth conducts the orchestra, the IN UNISON Chorus, and guest artist Sheléa in the annual “Gospel Christmas” concert on Thursday, December 15, at 7:30 pm.
The weekend of December 16 through 18 brings five performances of the another annual event, the "Mercy Holiday Celebration." This year Byron Stripling conducts, plays the trumpet, and sings (not, presumably, all at once) in a program of holiday favorites. The program repeats Tuesday and Wednesday, December 20 and 21, at 7:30 pm at Lindenwood University’s Scheidegger Center in St. Charles.
Next, it’s a pair of seasonal film events. “Home Alone in Concert” on December 22 and 23 is sold out at this time, but tickets are still available for “Elf in Concert” on Thursday and Friday, December 29 and 30, at 7:30 pm.
The festivities conclude with another annual event, the "New Year’s Eve Celebration." Stephanie Childress conducts the orchestra and soloists Mikaela Bennett (soprano) and Jeff Kread (tenor) in performances at 2 and 7:30 pm on Saturday, December 31st.